Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a holiday for remembering and honoring those who have passed. It’s a festive, joyous time of celebration and one of Mexico’s most important holidays. Dia de los Muertos falls on November 1 and 2, coinciding with the Catholic holidays All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
Sugar skulls are sold in markets and made at home. Contrary to the halloween skull symbol, they are happy, vibrant candies that are often smiling or laughing. The bright colors and sparkly decorations on the sugar skulls are cheerful enough to clear away any fear of death. The icing colors are bright yellow, hot pink, neon blue, vivid orange and glowing green. It’s a holiday of love and remembrance.
This house is made from a gingerbread house kit. If you don’t have a pre-baked kit handy, or prefer to bake your own, use the pattern for Anna’s House (click here). You’ll need the front, back, sides and roof panels. The other bits you can discard.
Cover the House in Black Fondant
Now, this is a DIY website and we all love creating from scratch. It’s cheaper for one thing, and fun to boot!
And yes, we did just cheat a little by using a tough-as-nails-and-just-as-tasty gingerbread house kit. Well, prepare yourself to cheat again because you’re headed to the hobby store or Walmart to purchase pre-colored black fondant.
While copious amounts of black food coloring can turn white fondant black, it will also stain your hands, counter, and apron. Let’s not even talk about the carpal tunnel factor from kneading it in. It is a simple affair to tint fondant pastel colors, but here you want a dark, rich, bold black. Please buy the black fondant. It’s so much easier and only marginally more expensive. Just do it.
A fine dusting of cornstarch keeps fondant from sticking to the counter, rolling pin, and your hands. Unfortunately, it looks like chalk dust on the black fondant. To keep the white powder as fine and even as possible, make a dusting pouch. Tie up ¼ cup of corn starch inside a few layers of cheesecloth. As you knead and roll the fondant, dab the pouch on your work surface and rolling pin to prevent sticking.
Roll out pieces of black fondant to a ¼” thickness. Slide the gingerbread piece under it, and make a rough cut around the cookie.
Remove the fondant scraps and further trim the fondant so that it exactly covers the top of the cookie. Make sure the sides of each gingerbread piece show some “naked” cookie. When you cement this puppy together you want the icing to join gingerbread-to-gingerbread without any interference from the fondant.
Spread a layer of piping gel on the face of the gingerbread, and place the fondant on top. Use your hand and a light gliding motion to smooth the fondant down into the gel.
Brush away any remaining cornstarch.
If you still have that dusty chalkboard look, dampen a paper towel and polish the surface of the fondant. This removes the last speckles of cornstarch and leaves a glistening, damp surface. Let it dry completely before continuing on. The used paper towel will look like a chimney sweep’s handkerchief. That black food coloring in the fondant will seep into any dampness, including icing you add for decoration. It’s absolutely essential that you pipe royal icing onto a completely dry piece of black fondant.
Make White Chocolate Skulls
Called “calaveras de azúcar” in Spanish, sugar skulls are sold everywhere in the weeks leading up to Day of the Dead. Market stalls are lined with rows and rows of colorful skulls, created from sugar and decorated with multi-colored icing, sequins, glitter and foil.
I also molded some skulls from sugar, but prefer the bright white skulls made from white chocolate.
Use “Bright White” Candy Melts so the bones that will be as white as your royal icing. The White Candy Melts look a bit like ivory in comparison. Put a small handful of melts in a disposable decorating bag. Microwave this for 40 seconds, remove it, and knead the candy. You may need to zap it in additional 10 second increments.
When you have a bag of liquid white chocolate, snip a tiny bit off the end and fill the mold’s skull depressions. Tap the mold on the table several times to remove any air bubbles, then put it in the freezer for 10 minutes.
Take the chilled mold from the freezer. Hold it about an inch over the counter and tap it gently to release the chocolates.
For the official instructions, visit the Wilton site or click here.
Make Royal Icing
To save time, I’ll direct you to a royal icing recipe and tutorial from Marian of Sweetopia.
You can see some of Marian’s fantastic-amazing-astounding gingerbread houses here.
Adjust the Icing Consistency
You’ll need two consistencies of icing.
Thick icing is the cement that joins the four walls and roof of the house. You’ll need enough to assemble the house and pipe some borders.
The second icing consistency is what I call a loose medium consistency. It’s loose enough to pipe dots without peaks, yet it’s stiff enough to hold it’s shape. Check out Julia Usher’s outstanding video and blog tutorials on royal icing consistency. She’s a phenomenal artist, and every cookie she creates is executed with smart precision.
Subscribe to Julia’s content while you’re there. You won’t be disappointed!
Color the Icing
Use black paste or gel food coloring to color the thick icing black. You’ll need enough icing to assemble the house and pipe a borders around the roof edges and the wall joints. The black color will darken if you’re able to let the icing rest for 1+ hours.
Now for the “bead consistency” or medium loose icing. I used five colors – red, pink, orange, blue, and white. Put 1/2 cup of icing into each of 5 teacups. Use gel or paste food colors to create your colors. To make the white icing extra bright for a strong white/black contrast, you can actually color it white. Weird, right? I thought so too, but it really makes an amazing difference. Americolor sells a soft gel paste food coloring in Bright White. Bridget of Bake at 350 explains things better than I can, and has a photo of the bottle, so click here! She’s another cookie maven with an irresistible blog, so promise me that you’ll eventually return to the Gingerbread Journal!
Pipe the Designs
Start with the door, continue to the windows, then add shutters.
Fill up the remaining space with dots, lines, hearts, squiggles, scrolls, flowers, and vines. If piping isn’t your cup of tea, don’t hesitate to do the entire house with dots. Or attach small candies with black icing instead. Tic Tacs, the segments from candy necklaces, large sprinkles, and other Halloween treats make excellent decor. I put three chocolate skulls on the back of the house, but you could add more skulls to the front and sides. Any bright or white candy will contrast nicely with the black fondant.
Attach the white chocolate skulls and outline them with colored dots and teardrops.
Be creative with the roof panels! For super-straight rows, use a non-toxic graphite pencil and straight edge to sketch straight lines across the fondant.
There’s no reason for identical roofs. Roof panel #2 is another blank canvas awaiting your creativity.
Let it Dry
Allow your beautiful piping to dry completely.
Assemble the House
I’ll to direct you to my Valentine’s Day House Tutorial, Part 2 for assembly instructions.
The dimensions and methods for the houses are identical. Use thick, black royal icing. Make certain you allow the four walls to dry at least an hour before attaching the roof.
Here’s the assembled house; it looks remarkably finished.
Pipe a roof ridge with white icing. I used petal tip #102 to pipe two ruffles and then a central vine. Pipe some type of border (I used an open star tip) to cover the joints of the walls and roof edges. Pipe black icing to cover the edges of the roof (again, an open star tip).
Thanks for joining me,